Pamie Ribon - Los Angeles, CA
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Pamie Ribon - Los Angeles, CA

Pamie Ribon - Los Angeles, CA

Pamie Ribon is one of the pioneers of the blog world. Check out more of her humorous & honest writing at Parts of this story have been edited.

Maybe I'm Crazy...
Four years ago I couldn't finish a mile. The reservoir near our house was a pretty, peaceful 2.5 mile track, and since I lived right next to it I told myself this was the opportunity to lose some weight and get healthier. That first summer the goal was to finish a mile without having to stop, without wanting to die. I eventually got there. And then I could go all the way around the track. Then I could go around twice.
I don't remember when I told myself I had to run a marathon. Maybe someone made it sound impossible. That tends to be what makes me want to do something. When I can't.
Dan and I were in the middle of a long run back in January when I first suggested it. We were talking about how sick and stressed we'd both been and this was the year of taking back our health and we were doing such a great job at it. We talked about how the people who complete marathons are often the ones who have fought back from something, who need to prove to themselves that they are in control of their bodies and can push them to do the seemingly insurmountable.
I told Dan, "I only want to do it once, so I want to go where it's beautiful. I want to run in paradise."
"That sounds perfect," he said.
"So I'm thinking Maui. It's in September. It'll be beautiful, and you run along the ocean and maybe it'll rain a little and we'll be filled with the Aloha spirit that'll make us want to do the whole thing. Would you run the Maui Marathon with me?"
"Hell, yeah. We're doing it. And then? Mai tais."
So it was on.
But then we started working, and as the training stopped for our jobs, we wondered if the marathon was going to turn into a joke. "Remember when we were going to run a marathon? Hilarious! Pass me the Doritos."
But then I didn't get staffed for the fall so I had the four months I needed to train for the September marathon in Maui. I asked Dan for his blessing, and he gave it to me.
I registered.
"How much was it?" my husband, stee, asked. I told him. "Oh, good. Not much," he said. "So if you decide not to do it, you won't lose that much money."
That wasn't an option. I didn't tell many people I was going to run a marathon because deep inside I was worried I wasn't going to do a marathon. That I'd find a reason not to. That I'd get a job that kept me from it. That I'd get there and decide to drink a pina colada instead. That I'd get to mile ten in training and get the flu again. Exciting excuses and fantasies of fantastic accidents filled my head.
But I booked the flight. The hotel. The rental car. No excuses. I trained. I ran. A lot. One day I ran from my house, through Eagle Rock, through Glendale, through Atwater Village, over to Silverlake, and around that reservoir where four years earlier I couldn't even stroll without losing my breath. I circled that thing and then ran back home again. And that? Is half a marathon.
When you tell someone you're going to run a marathon, they either tell you about the time they ran a marathon, or they tell you horror stories of someone they know who ran a marathon. I've heard about so many toenails falling off, sudden heart attacks, public bowel blow-outs, and severe dehydration. I found out my friend Cliff is a serious marathon enthusiast, running at least two a year, who told me that while I was going to be able to finish the race, I might want to up my training just a bit.
It wasn't easy to find three hours to go run while still trying to get my work done, and there was a heat wave, and I was traveling, and I know these sound like excuses because they are, but also: three hours to go run? On a Wednesday morning? Really? When I could just drink coffee and check email and then go have lunch with a friend?
I ran that 5K for Laura last week before the marathon, and it was over before I even knew it started. I wanted to see what it was like to run with other people, to wear a number and complete a race. I'm glad I did it, because I learned running a 5K is fun. I need to remember that now. 5K is fun.
As the race day quickly approached, I asked for some advice from friends who either ran marathons or believed that I could run one. I got a lot of "You'll finish. You can do it." One friend praised the importance of Big Red gum. Another said, "It's already done." That one I liked. "It's already done." I'm just taking the steps to meet my future.
Time cannot be stopped, no matter how much it feels like it can be manipulated, so eventually stee and I were leaving for Maui. Dan and I had a tearful goodbye that morning. I wanted to be here with him. I was now running for two.
We got here on Friday night. The race was Sunday morning. The bus to the start line left the hotel at 3:30 am, so I knew I had to get to sleep early. Luckily it took all day and night to get to Maui, so the first night I was asleep pretty early and up at dawn to stand on the beach and breathe in paradise. I spent Saturday trying to keep calm, to stay loose and centered and not freak out about the fact that in a few hours I'd be doing something I wasn't quite sure I could do. Something that, quite frankly, scared the crap out of me.
This is where I relinquished the last shred of dignity and realized I was going to need some kind of fanny pack in order to carry everything that was going to get me through the marathon. My pace for long distance is very slow. Cliff warned me that whatever I was doing to train is what I should do for the race, and not to get excited with the competition. I'd burn out. Even during the 5K I started thinking about running the marathon all the way through, quickening my pace, getting frustrated that I hadn't trained harder or longer. I started getting competitive. I went back and read my training book. (Because I'm a dork and trained through a book -- recommended by my friend Laura who ran a marathon). I'm so glad I did, because the book reminded me: You aren't running the marathon to place or set a time goal. Your only goal is to finish. All you have to do is finish, and you won. Don't set yourself up for disappointment, when you're doing something that's already extremely difficult. Just finish.
I bought a gear pack, some energy goo, a little bottle of friction salve, and wondered if I should pack my cell phone to call Dan when things got bleak. He told me I didn't need another distraction, and that I've already got the fanny pack on -- texting or blogging while running is too geeky, even for me. I didn't pack the cell phone, but contrary to the rules of the race, I did pack my iPod.
I had my Enell bra, shorts with pockets, a hoodie for when it was cold in the middle of the night on the way to the race (or cold while running alongside the water during sunrise), shirt, socks, shoes, sunglasses, and a hat.
I went to sleep at nine, fell asleep around ten, and woke up every hour, convinced I'd missed the bus to the start.

The Marathon
I got up at three in the morning. Sprang from the bed, actually, when the alarms went off. (Two different alarms). I got dressed. Wrote sleeping stee a note. He woke up and took pictures of me applying sunscreen. Took a few bites of apple and made a cup of tea.
I left the iPod, as I don't like breaking rules, walked to the elevator, decided I definitely needed the iPod and ended up knocking on the wrong door trying to get back in. Panicked, I flattened against the wall and tried not to breathe as whomever I woke up answered to see who the hell was knocking so early in the morning.
Off to my typical classy start.
Down by the long, long line of runners waiting for the bus, it was hot. I knew in a second that I didn't need the hoodie I'd worn, and I spent the next fifteen minutes thinking about how I'll either throw it away or give it to them as a charity donation (which is what would happen with items not picked up after the race).
I was nervous. I was standing behind a man in full Maori makeup. And spear. He was going to run a marathon holding a spear and I was debating an iPod. I reminded myself that he probably has run a marathon before, because you usually don't take a spear to your first twenty-six miles.
I was waiting in line for a school bus, something I hadn't done in decades, and my stomach was doing those familiar flip-flops.
Inside the bus it was dark and quiet. I kept fidgeting with my gear, my sweatshirt, the tea, the giant bottle of gatorade I was trying to consume. I wanted to stop moving around.
I'd picked a window on the right side, so I watched the ocean water, and tried to calm my mind. I looked up and saw the most amazing stars. I hadn't seen the stars of Maui since my honeymoon, and I heard myself gasp. We passed an aquarium, and I started thinking about how that might be nice on the trip.
Then I realized we'd been driving for a very long time. A very long time. In a bus. On a highway. More than half an hour had passed and we were still driving. As long as the bus was driving, I was going to be running. I had made a huge mistake. Terrible mistake. I wondered how I was going to get back, because it wasn't going to be on foot. We were still driving.
I looked up and saw a shooting star.
The parking lot was filled with people. One young woman was dressed as a yellow duck, complete with a tail and big yellow feet. Her friend was dressed as a swan. They giggled and posed for pictures.
"Not their first marathon," I thought. "Not if you want to run this thing in duck feet."
I stretched and kept calm and was grateful for my sweatshirt, as it was windy and chilly in the parking lot, listening to the announcements, watching the port-a-potty line get longer and longer. Eventually we made our way to the start line, a surprisingly long walk.
I made small talk with the girl standing next to me. She was from Arizona, and this was her first marathon, but she'd run many halfs and 10Ks. "What's your goal?" she asked.
"To finish," I told her.
"Finish without walking?"
"Just to finish."
I really understand why people do the Team in Training. They are perky and happy and all bound together and cheer each other on, even when they're complete strangers. "Remember!" one of the coaches was yelling in our direction before we got started. "Eat! Drink! And have fun! Eat! Drink! And have fun!" He was wearing a purple, curly beehive and he was beaming. Eat. Drink. Have fun.
I remind myself what Cliff told me: "Just stay at your pace. If you do that, you'll finish. You can finish this thing, but it's not going to be easy. Remember that around mile 17. And 20. And 21. But you'll finish. Don't get worried and speed up. You've got a long way to go."
And we were off.
"You're gonna fry in that sweatshirt, girlie!" a man in a UT hat and scruffy beard cackled at me as he passed. Aloha, dude.

Mile One was in the dark. My forerunner on my left wrist kept the time, and my pace. I started at a brisk walk for five minutes and then began the slowest run I could do, keeping calm, letting people pass, staying way to the left. I wanted to save all the strength I had, and keep this first mile as a warm-up.
My pace was this: run ten minutes, walk two minutes. Run ten, walk two. Over and over again, for 26.2 miles. Run ten, walk two.
"It's already done."
At the end of mile one I turned around to see there were only four people behind me. Four. And I could see them.
As I turned the corner, a race official picked up a street cone.
They were clearing the race behind me. I was, pretty much, dead last. At mile one. This is where my brain had some things to say. I knew I was probably in over my head. I hadn't trained enough. I should have done a half-marathon first. I should have run those thirteen miles the day of Adam and Rebecca's wedding. I should have run 20 miles in Topeka. I should have been honest with myself that a marathon isn't something you get up and do, and all the training I had done wasn't enough because here I was at the back of the race, and they're waiting on me to give up so they can stop lingering way back here at pretty much the starting point.
No, it's okay. You're starting out slowly on purpose. You have a faster pace than this, but you want to save your strength. There are big hills coming up in mile 8 through 12. If you run quickly now to catch up, you will do exactly what you did when you were a kid. You will puke in front of everyone. Just stay calm.

Mile 3
During a marathon, your brain can create the most amazing sounds and thoughts for your entertainment, to break you down, to trick you, to scare you, and to give you hope.
The sun started to rise, and as I looked out towards the water, I heard Dan in my head.
"Well, Pamie. There it is. This is what you wanted. This is what you planned. Enjoy the hell out of it, because if you spend the entire time beating yourself up or worried you won't finish, there's no reason you flew all the way to Maui. You did it so you'd do it, and now you're doing it. So do it. It's beautiful, just like you thought it would be."
I ran with Dan beside me, inside my head, and all over the mountains and waters of Maui.

Mile 5
I also ran these miles beside a man who I think was using me as his pace marker. I'd hear his flop-SLAP! of feet as he'd quickly approach and then just as he passed me he'd slow down to a walk. I'm going to try to explain this tactfully. His hands were curled at the wrist and his ankles turned in, making him bowlegged. The back of his t-shirt said, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, I am proud of you for doing your best."
Flop-SLAP! Flop-SLAP! Flop-SLAP!
Okay, it probably isn't his first marathon. He seems to know what he's doing. And for some reason I'm exactly at the pace he'd like to keep, because I apparently run a marathon right at the level of guy-who-can't-quite-walk.
This was turning into quite the humbling experience. For the record, I was now being lapped by a Maori warrior with spear, a girl dressed as a duck, and a man who's a little bit gimpy.
I popped a Starburst in my mouth and ate one packet of energy goo. I would see stee after mile eleven. I was about halfway there.

Mile 7
I'm singing songs in my head as cars are passing, honking in appreciation. It's early in the morning, but I'm feeling good. I know the hills and mountains are up ahead, but I'm in a pretty good groove. I'm enjoying my morning run with Mr. Gimp, and the two of us are a fun little couple. I've stopped looking behind me, but I know there are more than four people back there now. Me and my buddy have passed some people. Not a lot, but some.
To pass the time, I start thinking about what all my friends are doing at the same time this Sunday morning. Even with the time zone changes, I quickly conclude that every single one of them is most likely asleep.
Run ten, walk two. This means I run from :15 until :25. Walk until :27. Run until :37. Walk until :39. Run until :49. Walk until :51. Run until 1:01. 1:15. 1:27. 1:37. 1:51. I'd run the numbers in my head over and over. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
Running the numbers. In Hawaii. Because I'm feeling lost.
I'm Lost. I've finally figured out what the numbers mean. I've cracked the code. I've cracked it wide open. I'm laughing as I'm running because that's truly crazy, and the numbers keep running in my head. I only have to make it until the next number.
I pass the aquarium. I really am retracing the steps of the bus ride from so long ago.

Mile 8
Two hours have passed. With the pace I'm doing, I figure I will finish sometime between six and seven hours. I try to imagine what the little white sign that says "Mile 16" will look like. I know it's so far in the future. I try not to think about that. I run the numbers again. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
The sun is relentless. It's so much hotter than I thought it would be. Paradise should be cool and breezy, like the last time I was here.

Mile 9
"Where you from, 734?"
The man who's been running just a bit behind me for a while decides to strike up a conversation. I've been listening to his breath, telling myself that this couldn't be his first marathon, either. I don't know why I find it a comfort to think I'm the only one new to this, but it helps. Everything helps, because I don't know what I'm doing or why I decided to run for almost thirty miles.
"Los Angeles."
He's from Minnesota, and this isn't his first marathon. He tells me the nice thing about this one is that they'll let you run it in longer than six hours. Apparently some marathons aren't patient enough for us slow-pokes.
"I just want the medal," I say. "We have to finish in eight hours, so even if I take a little nap, I'll probably finish."
(The rules of the race state you cannot get a t-shirt or a medal unless you finish the race. "Medals are for finishers!" it said in bold.)
"You'll finish," he says. "You're at a good pace. Don't worry. I'm Howie," he says. "See you at the finisher's party?"
"You got it."
He runs off, and I never see him again.
I take my first bathroom break. There was a line at all of the aid stations before, and because I was so far at the end of the pack, I figured stopping would be like walking all the way to the end of the line again, where I'd stay until they picked me up in a car and told me to give up.

Mile 10
It's extraordinarily windy, and everything in front of me is all uphill. I'm used to running hills, as Eagle Rock isn't flat in many parts, and the reservoir back in Silverlake also had a big hill. Hills I can do. I imagine Dan beside me, deeply engaged in our tradition known as Mile Six News.
This is where I learn how important it is to grab the sponges at the aid station that are soaked in ice water. What a beautiful invention. I drown myself in them, and fill my bottle with more Powerade. I don't know how much I've had to drink, but it's a lot.

Mile 10.5
People are stopping to take pictures. I keep running. One of the official photographers takes a photo at the top of a hill, and I can't help but mug for the camera. He sneers at me, like I've ruined his job. Fine. Sorry to pretend this isn't grueling.

Mile 11
A woman at the top of the mountain promises me that I just got through the hard part, and it's all downhill from here. I make her promise.
I go through a tunnel, where the purple beehive guy is cheering me on. How did he get here? Did I imagine him?

Mile 12
Just over a hill, I see him. It's something in the way he's scratching his elbow, one knee turned in. Stee. I wave, hesitantly at first, and he realizes it's me and waves back with excitement. He runs across the highway and meets me.
"I have a walk break in three minutes," I tell him, jogging along.
He walks at a pace that matches my running stride. This is why I can run a marathon; I'm always running to keep up with him anyway.
He's taking me in, checking me everywhere, the smile on his face proud and a bit awed. I can tell I must look a bit better than he was expecting. "You okay?"
"You're doing it! You're really doing it."
I don't want to get emotional. I don't want to screw up my breath. I hand him my sweatshirt and try to tell him about everything I've seen.
"Did you see the duck?"
"Yes! I took pictures of the duck."
"I'm being beaten by a duck."
"And a blind lady. And a guy with a huge hump on his back. And a Maori warrior with a spear! And--"
"I know. Well, I didn't know about the hunchback."
"It's amazing! There are so many people. And don't worry about this sun -- there's a giant cloud behind you and soon it'll be shady and maybe it'll rain."
He's pep-talking me through the next few miles. He gives me something to drink and tells me I'm almost halfway done.
"It's already done."
As much as I just ran? I have to do it all over again, but now I have to do it while I feel like this. I am staring down more than fourteen more miles, and the mountains I just covered are starting to catch up with me.
I don't tell this to stee. I don't say this out loud. I just keep moving.

Mile 13
As a reward, I put on my headphones. My marathon playlist keeps me moving. I see stee pass in his car down the highway. I'll see him again in about an hour. I run the numbers. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. It's all about getting that medal.
It rains, just slightly.

Mile 14
How much can change in a mile. The novelty of seeing stee has worn off. The rain has stopped. It's hot again. And I'm feeling those miles of running uphill. My hip hurts. My feet hurt. I am nowhere near the finish line. At this point, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to finish. As much as I just ran, I have to do it again, but while I feel like this. I think about how it felt hours ago when it was dark and I was just starting out. It felt like days earlier. Could I do it again, but now in the heat and the sun and that throbbing in my hip and the aching in my feet? Why would I do this? Is this worth it?
More sponges. More water. More drinking. I stop, trembling in the filthy port-a-potty, only to find I cannot go. I think I have to, but I can't. Does that mean my body is now tricking me into stopping, or have my organs started shutting down? I try to rub that friction goo on my legs, but I can't get the bottle open with my teeth because I'm just too tired, so I throw it away, grab another sponge, soak my legs in cold water and keep going.
Keep going. Keep going.

Mile 15
What have I gotten myself into? What am I trying to prove? Who cares if you run a marathon? Why do you?
It's time to stop. Every time I start to walk, I feel something push me from behind, right at my hip, making me pick up my pace again. Something won't let me slow down.
It's time to stop. Pack it in. No more. I'm seeing things. I think I see the car parked on the side of the road, but I don't see stee. I'm imagining things, wishing I could go home.
Stee suddenly appears at my side. "Hey! You're still doing it!"
It takes everything inside of me not to collapse. The tears start. "I'm done," I say. "I want to go home."
"You're doing great."
"I'm done."
"Oh, no. You're okay. You're gonna be fine."
He's the tallest Burgess Meredith of all time as he walks next to me, offering another sports drink, taking gear I don't need off of me, telling me that I'm almost done.
"I'm done now."
"No. That's mile 16 up ahead. After that it's ten miles."
Ten point two, but what's the point of correcting him?
"Ten miles," he says. "That's two five-mile runs. You do that all the time. In your sleep. What's two five-mile runs? And then nothing but sitting by the ocean and drinking lots of booze."
I remember the sign I passed a few miles ago. "Go, Stacey! At the end of this, there's a cocktail waiting for you!"

Mile 16
"See? Here we are at Mile 16." He's slowing down his walk to match my running pace.
"I'm walking faster than I'm running. I gain time during my two-minute walk breaks."
"You're doing great."
"How's the duck?"
"The duck's looking tired. But she's still up there."
"I have to get to mile 18. I'll be okay if I get there."
"You're okay. What hurts?"
"My hip. My feet. Everything. But my hip. My feet."
"Man, I just saw you, and now look at you."
I tell him I have to keep going or I will cry and stop. He tells me he'll see me soon, and heads in the other direction.
I try to distract my brain. I sing along to Kelly Clarkson. I stare at the ocean water. I stare at my feet. Someone has written in chalk along a patch of road: "YOU CAN DO IT. YOU ARE ALMOST THERE. STRONG LEGS. NO PAIN."
I chant in my head. Strong legs. Feeling light. No pain. I find the ability to make it to Mile 17.

Here is where I start hallucinating. I can smell people who are nowhere near Hawaii. I can hear people who aren't alive anymore. Every time I see a little white mile-marker sign I hear the Law & Order sound in my head. Mile 17. "Dum-Dum!" Like we're getting closer to my inevitable death. And then I realize I am, because eventually I'm going to die, because we're all going to die, and here I am wasting time pushing myself through Painville for what? What is the point? Why do people do this? Why am I doing this?
How come every time I try to slow down, something's pushing me to keep going? Why won't it let me walk? Something in my head answers, "When there was only one set of footprints, that's when I was carrying you." And then I start laughing, because I'm so exhausted I now think Jesus is talking to me, and then also I have finally understood why that Footprints thing means something to people, and I look up ahead and I swear to you there's a sign in front of me, big and bold in old-fashioned diner writing: "JESUS COMING SOON." Like a Hollywood trailer. And it's all so much that I don't know what to do other than think, "I hope the duck's okay."
I time my footsteps to the names of people I love, people who would want me to finish, people who believe in me, who think I can do anything, even things I don't know I want to do yet.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
More sponges. I pass a group of kids playing drums. They've been playing for hours. I've been running for hours. Almost six hours.

Mile 18
There it is. The mile marker that says I will finish. The book told me I would, so now I think I will because if you've come this far, you won't let yourself stop. Or so it says. And so I think. I can't let myself stop, no matter how wonderful it would be to just stop. To sit. To be still and breathe and not be on my aching feet anymore. My hip feels like it's creaking, and I can feel my spine begin to break off into tiny brittle pieces. I will be not right anymore.
An official photographer is poised in front of me. As I pass him, I remember I'm almost finished, and I start to smile. "There she is," he says.

Mile 19
Dan says to me, "It's all Mile Six News from here, baby. Run it in."
I hear my dad. "Just run it in."

Mile 20
Here is where I allow myself the smallest walk break. Five extra minutes of walking, because I can't really feel parts of my feet and the parts I can feel are aching and my hip is very angry. I am now in a quiet residential area, and there's hardly anybody around.
I reach "JESUS COMING SOON." It's a little Jehovah's Witness chapel, and everybody is in there singing. I start to run again, even though it's uphill.
I pass a man standing outside his house with a hose. I make a terrible mistake. I shelter my iPod on my left side. "Hit me," I say to him. Instead of lightly spraying, as everybody else has, he hits me full-blast with some kind of fire-hose strength.
Two things happen immediately, and all of this happens within seconds:
My right ear clogs with water. I can't hear the music. I can't hear anything.
My right calf muscle immediately spasms into a charlie horse. I feel it twist and pull up into itself, and my knee buckles.
That's it. It's over. Done. Leg cramped, can't move, can't move forward. Done. Pack it in. Too much. Too much pain. Never predicted this, not in all the training and prep. Never thought I'd be done in by a random cramp from cold water. Stupid. All this for nothing.
That's my brain, talking to my leg. "No, this will not happen. You will not get a cramp, and you will not ruin this. We are not stopping. We are not sitting. We will not wait out your cramp. So let it go and keep going. Take all the pain and focus it on that jerk who just hit you with an ice stick, Tonya Harding-style. Just keep going. Let the pain go and use it to hate that guy."
And then the cramp released, I hated that guy, and eventually the water drained from my ear.
And I was past that. I had survived that. I hadn't stopped. I would have never thought myself capable of that. If you had shown me that moment and paused right after the cramp and asked me what would happen next, I would have guessed falling down weeping, crawling over to the man with the hose, asking to use his phone and then sitting on his couch watching Cribs until stee came to pick my hobbled butt up.
I never would have thought I'd have ordered my leg to shut up.

Mile 21
I've got just over five miles left, and I'm running through a touristy section of Maui. There are shops everywhere and since the marathon is almost six hours in, nobody cares about these last couple hundred, sweat-soaked hobbler-zombies making their way down Old Lahaina. Some of them are watching us, smoking cigarettes, looking at each other like, "Why would you do that to yourself?"

Mile 22
Someone gives me a popsicle. There has never been a better popsicle in my life.
I see stee. He comes running up beside me, snapping pictures where I think my eyes are giving him the finger. "You're almost done. You're going to finish. You're really going to finish! This is so exciting. Are you okay? I bought you a granola bar. And a ring pop. And... that popsicle looks great. Are you okay? How's your hip?"
"Hurts. All hurts. Charlie horse. Hate."
"It's hot. It's so sunny and so hot. But look how pretty it is over there. We should come back here later maybe."
"What can I do?"
"I don't know." The shuddery breath starts. I force it away. I can't cry, or I won't be able to breathe and I won't be able to move. "I don't know. You're doing it. You're doing it. Every time you show up it's when I think I can't do this anymore. I don't know how you're doing that, but I really appreciate it." More shuddery breath.
"Do you want me to keep walking with you? I could keep walking all the way to the finish and then I could come back here for the car."
"Well. Don't you want to see me cross the finish line?"
"Yes. And it's really far from here. Five miles! That's a long walk!"
"You're hilarious."
"You're almost done. I'll see you at the finish line, okay? Are you okay?"
"See you at the finish line."
"You're going to do it. You're awesome."
"There's only one set of footsteps, stee."
"And I've figured out what the numbers mean."
"Oh, dear."
"And I love popsicles."

Mile 23
I am in pain. I am hot. I am done. I have been running for more than six hours. I still have almost another hour to go. At least forty-five minutes. I can tell somewhere in my brain that I have more energy than my body wants to believe. I start trying to figure out how to talk my body into doing what it is pretty damn sure it doesn't want to do. Three point two more miles. More miles. Miles. It sounds like a little, but it's still quite a lot.
How do I make my body move when all it wants to do is cry? What can make me happy when there's no real reason to? What song can get my blood going and my head going and my body moving and makes me feel like I can do anything? What is going to make me happy but not make me cry? Because if I run any slower at this point, I'll be running in reverse. What song is gonna get me to mile 24?

Mile 24
Britney Spears. "Toxic."
It works. Like a charm. I am even dancing a little, singing and running, passing people. (Luckily I don't notice that what I'm also passing at that very moment is a cemetery, or I might not have been so joyful). The official photographer laughs at me. Policemen are shaking their heads as I pass. I am clearly delirious, but it is working. I am moving.

Mile 25
"... Baby One More Time"
"I'm a Slave 4 U"
"Oops! I Did It Again"
Thanks, Cristela, for letting me swipe those songs from your iPod. Britney, I owe you some cash.

Mile 26
I decide to run the rest in. Screw the numbers. I can get this done. I'm running a little faster, and it's hotter, and the end feels like it's stretching away from me like the hallway in Poltergeist.
Someone running the other direction falls in front of me. He's okay. He's running to catch up with a friend who's behind me. There are people behind me? When did that happen?
I take off my headphones and round the corner for the final bend.
"That's it!" a woman shouts from the sidelines. "See that white fence? That's your finish line. You did it. You're going home now. Welcome home."
People are applauding, welcoming me back. I can hear "It's a Small World" playing at the finish line. Why? Strange choice.
I'm rounding the bend and it sounds like a party going on at the finish line. The music changes to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."
I'm getting closer. It's almost here. I'm going to have run a marathon.
I see stee at the finish line. He's beaming -- trying to wave, take a picture and hold up a cardboard sign all at the same time.
They said my name correctly!
Stee's sign comes into focus: "YOU CRACKED IT WIDE OPEN, PAMIE!"
I see the clock over my head at 06:44 as I lift my arms and feel the tears and cross the finish line.
"Congratulations," I hear over and over.
I duck my head for the medal. I grab it in my hands. Both trembling hands.
"All that. For this," I say.
My final time. Those are the only numbers I have to remember now.
I caught up with my future.

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